Xafogor, that’s the word that’s been on everyone’s lips in Barcelona for weeks on end. Pronounced like ‘shaff-u-go’, it describes the effects of high humidity. Rather like the wind chill factor, the thermometer might say 27c but the sensation of xafogor makes it feel like 37c or more. At night. Every night. For months.
We’ve had three successive heat waves up here in North-East Spain, one after the other. It’s 40c in the daytime, hotter than your body temperature, and feels like 35 late at night. The air is thick like soup and you’re constantly aware of it as you pace from room to room seeking cool. You wake up in the early hours, covered in a thin film of sweat. Parts of the country are experiencing the hottest temperatures for a hundred years.
On the upside, people’s need to survive the night means that this is the season for live music. Many of the world’s top artists arrive to play in our city by the sea, starting late and not ending till the early hours. The most exciting arrival this year is the wonderful French singer Zaz.
Zaz’s music is a kind of modern funky jazz, accompanied by a hat-wearing, shadow-hugging band of double bass, acoustic guitars, drums, keyboard and the best horn player I’ve heard since I caught the late Clarence Clemons at Bruce Springsteen’s London concerts.
Zaz gave plenty of the spotlight to her band, which was as generous as it was well-deserved because everyone was there to hear her emotion-packed, extraordinary voice. Like Eric Clapton or the Who, she is an artist who has to be heard live to get the full power of her performance. She made us wait for her French mega-hit Je veux, but when it came, it brought the house down.
Or at least it would have brought the house down if we’d been indoors. The concert was actually in the Poble Espanyol, the Spanish village. It’s a Disney World type fake village in Barcelona, containing reconstructions of the most iconic buildings of Spain. It works quite well in a ‘Ye Olde Tea Shoppe’ sort of way. Zaz’s concert was in the Plaza Mayor where we could mill about getting drinks and sandwiches that were so large that they could have fed an entire Medieval village on their own. For about a week.
It is strange listening to music when you don’t understand the language. My GCSE French was nowhere near good enough to sing along to the songs, nor to give me the slightest clue as to what she was singing about. It doesn’t matter. Great performers pour emotion into their songs that touch you without words interfering.
Zaz’s greatest song is the melancholy, bittersweet Éblouie par la nuit, which ends her 2010 eponymous album. She sang that almost unaccompanied, bathed in blue light, seeking nothing from the audience, fully aware that she had been touched by magic.
It was a wonderful gig and Zaz is so engaging as a performer. Success came to her rather late in life, and she seems somewhat startled by her fame as if she can’t quite believe it’s happening. It was lovely to see that, after the brazen publicity-gathering that seems to saturate social media these days.
Even if you never have a chance to see her live, check out her best album Zaz. It is superbe!